Can Bollywood Be Sexually Empowering?

Contemporary Bollywood has a problem with sex. The days of using flowers as a euphemism for kissing are long gone (considering how much they were used, it’s a surprise that flowers are not seen with hawas ki nazar). Today’s Bollywood is either too shy about sexuality, or too obscene, or politically incorrect.

However, there are a few diamonds in this coal mine. Whether you love watching art films or consider yourself an out-and-out masala buff, this list of sexually empowering Bollywood movies has a pick for every cinephile.

1. Fire (1996)

This movie is as much about the discovery of intimacy outside of heterosexual marriages, as it is about a woman’s liberation from the chains of marriage. Ignored by their husbands, sisters-in-law Radha (Shabana Azmi) and Sita (Nandita Das) first find comfort in each other, then intimacy, and finally, love.

Picture credits: Kajal Magazine

2. Aastha: In the Prison of Spring (1997)

When a movie stars Rekha and Om Puri in the lead roles, it’s bound to be fantastic. Mansi (Rekha) and Amar (Puri) are a happily married couple, but when Mansi starts to find sexual pleasures outside of her marriage, it shakes her faith in herself. With a powerful ending, Aastha: In The Prison of Spring questions what marital contentment means, and is a strong statement on women’s sexuality.

Picture credits: Youtube

3. Love, Sex Aur Dhoka (2010)

Love, Sex Aur Dhoka explores the dark side of sex and intimacy, and how it is used as a tool of exploitation. Three anthologies, running parallely, talk about love, sex and betrayal, and how it changes the destinies of the main characters. The inspiration for this movie, directed and co-written by Dibakar Banerjee, was when Banerjee dug deeper into the various MMS scandals that had emerged in India, and how they started. The camerawork brilliantly captures the salacious eye of Indian society.

Picture credits: Sacnilk

4. Margarita With A Straw (2014)

In a world that is largely ignorant about the sexuality of people with disabilities, this movie is a shining ray of hope. Through a well-written script and strong performances, this movie tells the story of Laila Kapoor (Kalki Koechlin) who lives with cerebral palsy; how she discovers her sexuality and both she and her family come to terms with it. Much like a margarita, this one is both bitter and sweet, and thankfully stays away from patronising Laila as a character.

Picture credits: Business Line

5. Hunterrr (2015)

Hunterrr goes on the path less trodden with the theme of sex addiction. Gulshan Devaiah plays Mandar, a self-confessed sex addict in the movie, which also stars Radhika Apte. The movie is follows Mandar’s life as a sex addict, and the various Catch-22 situations that his condition lands him in. It is light, funny, and fairly scandalous, but more importantly, it is sensitive to the issue of sex addiction and its implications.

Picture credits: Amazon Prime Video

6. Aligarh (2015)

Aligarh is one of the first few films in Bollywood to openly talk about being gay, as well as having a sexual life as an older person. Set in a time when Section 377 was still in force, the film explores the emotions, turmoil, resentment and alienation that Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras (Manoj Bajpayee) undergoes with when his private affairs come out in public. Also starring Rajkummar Rao, this film a poignant comment on what love is, and who can love.

Picture credits: Screen Daily

7. Parched (2015)

Parched does not run out of powerful scenes, whether it is the sublime encounter between Lajjo (Radhika Apte) and the mystic lover (Adil Hussain), or when Bijli (Surveen Chawla) goes to extreme lengths to stay in business, or even when Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee) finally redeems herself. This movie isn’t easy to watch and is strong on the feels, but when the end credits roll, your broken heart will feel free.

Picture credits: Livemint

8. Pink (2016)

Taapsee Pannu is one of the few actors who can hold their own in a movie starring megastar Amitabh Bachchan. When Minal (Pannu) tries to seek justice for being molested by a politician’s nephew and gets trapped herself, retired lawyer Deepak Sehgal (Bachchan) offers her his help. This movie could well be a crash course on consent for the uninitiated, and received rave reviews for formidable performances by the cast.

Picture credits: Storypick

9. Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016)

Lipstick Under My Burkha makes a strong comment on the social freedoms of women, and sexual liberty is a strong one. From abortions and pre-marital sex, to cougarism, this black comedy does not shy away from bluntly calling out repressive and toxic behaviour, nor does it treat women’s sexuality within or outside marriage as a one-size-fits-all theme. Watch out for Ratna Pathak Shah’s performance as Rosy, it’s one that you won’t forget.

Picture credits: Amazon Prime Video

10. KJo’s Lust Stories (2018)

The last in a four-part anthology on sex, Karan Johar’s 30-minute short on sexual fulfillment is both funny and sweet. Paras (Vicky Kaushal) doesn’t know how to make his wife Megha (Kiara Advani) happy in bed, and after a debacle in front of the family, Megha decides that her orgasms are more important than her husband (damn right, they are). This movie is a friendly reminder that just because women don’t have penises, it doesn’t mean they don’t want or like sex.

Picture credits: Netflix

Cover image credits: Femphile

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